In today’s Wall Street Journal, retired accountant Raymond L. Dever proposes to “level the playing field” among retailers by shifting the burden of tax collection to the States. Dever’s argument in favor of his proposal also explains why Congress is unlikely to adopt it. And by “leveling the playing field” this way, it would unlevel it in others.
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The Senate is advancing a bill sponsored by Mike Enzi (R-WY) that would require Internet retailers to charge sales taxes based on the buyer’s jurisdiction of residency. The objective is to escape a Supreme Court 1992 decision in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota that prohibited North Dakota from forcing an out-of-state seller to remit sales taxes.
Much of the talk on both sides of this issue has been about “leveling the playing field.” Thinking about this carefully shows that there are different ways the playing field might be leveled, each of which would be tilted in one way or another. There is no way to “level the playing field” on every important policy dimension, which suggests that it is past time to abandon this metaphor.